Boxing and wrestling are two separate forms of combat that differ in every aspect. In fact, these two martial arts do not share a single technique. This makes you wonder, how boxing and wrestling differ so much. What are the key differences?
Boxing is a standup martial art. It is a mainstream combat sport where athletes fight in the standup under full-contact rules where they can only use their fists to do damage. They are not allowed to grapple, not even to clinch. Wrestling, on the other side, is the total opposite as it focuses entirely on grappling and does not include any striking.
The only thing these two share in common is that both are Olympic sports.
Keep reading this article to learn more about how boxing and wrestling differ from one another. We will also explore how these two systems compare in various aspects such as self-defense, MMA, fitness, and other.
What Is Boxing?
Boxing is one of the oldest and most popular combat sports in the world. It is characterized by the simple rule set where athletes are allowed only to use their fists to do damage. Though simple, boxing is a mainstream sport, practiced by millions of people worldwide. Athletes compete for world titles, global fame, and of course, money.
Boxing is legal in just about every country worldwide and the rules are codified and standardized. Or in other words, do not differ too much between countries and organizations. Each boxing event has around 10 fights in total; matches are split into rounds (between 4–12). Further, fighters compete across 17 different weight categories based on their physical size.
The main objective is to use a mix of power, speed, movement, and accuracy to strike the opponent with your fists and knock them out or hurt up to the point they can no longer continue. Or if the time expires, the winner would be a fighter who won more rounds. The only legal strikes are the ones to the head and the upper body area above the waist.
Boxing is well-regulated and has over 70 different organizations. However, the following four are recognized as the major ones. Winning a title in one or all four promotions is the ultimate goal of every boxer:
What is Wrestling?
Wrestling is also among the oldest forms of combat. Like boxing, it is a very popular sport and a part of the Olympic Games since ancient times. As a system, wrestling is a grappling-based martial art where the main goal is to take the opponent down to the ground and subdue utilizing techniques such as pins and locks. There is no striking with your hands or legs, just grappling in a continuous action until one of the two wrestlers’ falls down to the ground.
There are dozens of different wrestling styles developed throughout history. However, the most popular ones are Freestyle and Greco-Roman, both part of the Olympic Games and we will use these two as a reference in this article. There are also other ones such as folk wrestling or the “catch-as-catch-can” style that even include submissions. But in the wrestling world, these are considered “hybrid” variations.
- Freestyle wrestling — is a style where the rules enable you to grab and hold on to the opponent both below and above the waist. You can manipulate the opponent’s legs to take them down, as well as the arms and other body parts.
- Greco-Roman — is a style where wrestlers are not allowed to manipulate the body below the waist. Wrestlers are not allowed to grab or hold on to the opponent’s legs to score takedowns. Instead, the emphasis is on powerful throws.
Boxing vs. Wrestling — What Are The Main Differences?
The biggest difference is the concept. Boxing is a striking martial art where fighters use only their fists to do damage, score points and win a match. Wrestling is a grappling-based system where the main goal is to take the opponent down to the ground.
Following is a detailed explanation of other key differences.
Boxing has been around for over 3,000 years which makes it the oldest striking martial art in the world. The earliest records go all the way back to ancient Egypt where scientists discovered much evidence of boxing matches. They found cave drawings showing people “fighting” with their hands being wrapped and wearing similar gear like shorts and shoes. But as a real sport, it debuted at the 23rd Olympiad in 648 BC.
Wrestling is even older. The earliest records go as far as 15,000 years ago. There are many cave drawings all across Egypt and Babylon showing people wrestling each other in front of spectators in a similar form as in modern times. As an official sport, wrestling first appeared at the 22 Olympiad in 688 BC in Greece.
Concept and objectives
Boxing is a striking martial art and a combat sport where athletes compete for fame, glory, legacy, and of course, money. It is well-spread worldwide and offers many opportunities for young athletes to rise quickly and become successful. The main objective is to develop good enough skills to win each match in a devastating fashion, climb the lathers, and win a world title.
Wrestling focuses entirely on grappling and taking the opponent down from a standing position. Competition is very popular, notably in countries such as Russia and the US where wrestling is integrated into the educational program at universities and high schools. However, the sport does not offer the same financial opportunities as boxing. The main goal of each athlete is to win state championships and get into the Olympics. While high-level boxers earn dozens of millions, there is no such money in wrestling.
As a combat system, boxing is quite simple as it all revolves around hand strikes and utilizing four different punching techniques to hurt the opponent. The key is to mix hand strike with advanced footwork, angles, and head movement to create dodge/slip shots, create openings, counterattack, or block the upcoming punch.
- Jab (straight punch)
Each wrestling match begins in a standing position. Depending on the style, the key is to secure a dominant position on the feet from which you can manipulate the opponent’s weight, balance, and re-direct energy to take them down to the ground. Once there, the key is to pin them to the mat to win a match. Some of the most popular wrestling techniques are:
- Single leg takedown
- Double leg takedown
- Outside/Inside trip
- Low double/single leg
Boxing rules are codified and standardized across different organizations and governing bodies. Even the amateur and professional rules are quite similar. There might be slight variations, notably in terms of the number of rounds and protective gear:
- Match duration: between 4–12 rounds depending on the importance of the match
- Fighting area: boxers compete inside the squared platform called “The Ring”. The platform is 6.10m x 6.10m and has four posts in each corner connected with four ropes.
- Legal strikes: punches to the head and upper body area above the waist (rib cage, solar plexus, etc)
illegal techniques: clinching, takedowns, kicks, elbow or knee strikes
- Gear: Boxing shorts and shoes, full padded gloves, mouth guard, groin cup, hand wraps.
Wrestling rules are standardized but vary between styles. For the purpose of this article, let’s look at the freestyle Olympic rules:
- Match duration: the match consists of two periods with each lasting three minutes and there is a 30-second break.
- Fighting area: wrestlers compete on the open mat that is 9m in diameter.
- Points: points go from 1 to 5 depending on the difficulty and execution of the specific technique. Scoring is cumulative; meaning a wrestler who has more points when the time expires wins a match.
- Gear: One-piece singlet and wrestling shoes
Boxing or Wrestling For Self-Defense?
Wrestling is superior when it comes to most self-defense scenarios. It gives you better chances of beating an attacker in any type of freestyle combat you may encounter on the streets or in different places. However, do not underestimate the power of boxing either. Despite being simple, boxing is among the most effective self-defense martial arts, but not as much as wrestling.
First, wrestlers are among the finest athletes, very strong, explosive, and durable. Next, the majority of people, even the ones trained in martial arts, do not know how to defend against a grappling attack. We can all duck under the punch or cover to block as these are our natural reactions, but grappling is different.
Wrestling is all about manipulating weight, balance, and chaining the moves in a sequence to take the opponent down, and it takes years to learn how to defend against these attacks. Even if the attacker is trained in BJJ, Judo, or Sambo and knows how to defend a takedown, their defense would fail against a pure wrestler. And this makes them superior in any type of situation, especially in closed spaces like a bar or a hall.
Boxing, on the other side, is maybe equally effective due to one simple reason. Pull up any compilation of street fights and the first thing you will notice is that all of the fights start with one person throwing a punch. This is the easiest and fastest way to hurt a person standing in front. And boxing is the best when it comes to defending against punches, and countering these attacks.
Overall, both boxing and wrestling are effective for self-defense. Which one is better is more of a personal choice — are you more into striking or grappling?
Boxer vs. Wrestler — Who Would Win In A Fight?
Wrestlers have better chances of beating a boxer in a street fight or any type of freestyle combat. Though this is a typical striker vs. grappler matchup, wrestlers are superior in terms of athleticism, the effectiveness of techniques, and body mechanics. And it is much easier for them to impose their will in this matchup than vice versa. If you need any proof, just look at the early days of MMA and how grapplers used to dominate the sport, especially against boxers.
The thing is, it is much easier for a wrestler to defend against a boxing attack than vice versa. Blocking a strike and moving your head away to make yourself a smaller target are natural reactions. Wrestlers can change their levels in a blink of an eye, and the match would be over as soon as they secure a strong grip. It would be a matter of seconds before a boxer would get slammed and pinned to the ground.
Boxers, no matter how strong, physically superior, or talented they are, do not have the skills to defend against takedowns. It takes years to develop instincts, learn the exact procedures, and develop skills to stop grappling attacks. However, do not write off boxers yet as they are always one punch away from shutting your lights out.
They stand a decent chance if the match takes place in an open space. This is where they can apply footwork to manage distance and maybe catch a wrestler as they are coming in. But overall, their chances are small as there are so many tricks and techniques wrestlers can use to avoid damage and being caught.
Boxing vs. Wrestling For Fitness?
Boxing is a more suitable choice if you want to train in martial arts for fitness benefits. Don’t get us wrong, wrestlers are superior in terms of athleticism and functional strength. But there are many reasons why most people looking to get in shape choose boxing over wrestling and most other martial arts.
For example, boxing is an adaptable martial art and you can approach it your own way and with your own goals. Each gym includes an amateur group where you will learn boxing at your pace and without any pressure of succeeding or being a master of the craft.
You can join the classes the same as you are joining a fitness gym, and approach it that way. As long as you are doing what the coaches are asking you to do, it’s all good. But you don’t have to spar or compete if you are not interested.
Each session burns up to 800 calories depending on various factors and is considered a full-body workout. You may expect to lose weight in a short time span, and improve strength in the following muscle groups:
- Core muscles
- Leg muscles
- Shoulder muscles
- Hip muscles
Wrestling is conceptually different. You won’t see people, especially adults, joining the classes for fitness goals. No, each person who trains in wrestling is there with a clear goal in mind: to compete and win matches. It is a grueling sport where there is not a “softer variation” of the classes where you can just focus on burning calories.
Overall, boxing gyms and culture are more in line with the modern lifestyle and demands of people looking to improve fitness, and it should be your choice.
Boxing or Wrestling for MMA?
Wrestling is widely recognized as the best base for MMA. In fact, studies have shown that wrestling has produced the most UFC champions in history. The majority of UFC champs have had some type of wrestling background. And this shows you how dominant this particular martial art is in cage fighting. Boxing is up there in terms of striking, but nowhere near wrestling, and here is why.
First, wrestlers are the ones who dictate where the fight takes place. They can take any striker or trained BJJ fighter without any issues, and with a bit of submission defense, control the fight from the top position. Next, they are superior to most other athletes, including boxers, when it comes to sheer strength, speed, explosiveness, and body mechanics. They are also more agile, and flexible, and their bodies are more adaptable to freestyle combat.
Further, MMA is a sport where you need to have all-around skills, and this is where the learning curve comes into play.
Skilled wrestlers would need one year to develop solid punching and kicking skills. However, strikers would have to spend years, up to 5 at least, to learn how to grapple. This is why you can often see athletes in their 30s, transitioning from wrestling to MMA and conquering the sport in a few years. Some of the examples are:
- Daniel Cormier
- Yoel Romero
- Randy Couture
- Brock Lesnar
Related: The 7 Best Martial Arts for MMA
Boxing vs. Wrestling — Which One is Harder To Learn?
Becoming a highly skilled practitioner in both of these martial arts is hard. Wrestling is harder as it includes more techniques that are physically more demanding. Boxing, on the other side, imposes a greater risk to your health. To determine which one is harder, let’s look at the following factors.
More techniques — wrestling
Overall, wrestling includes more offensive and defensive techniques and combinations. Boxing focuses only on mixing hand strikes with movements and is quite simple. Depending on the style, wrestlers must utilize various takedowns, trips, throws, sweeps, positions on the ground, and pins.
Physically more demanding — wrestling
Wrestling is a grueling sport that requires a special type of athleticism, agility, and body mechanics. And grappling, in general, is physically more demanding than striking. However, striking is painful and harder on your body.
More dangerous — boxing
Boxing is among the most dangerous sports in the world. It has a very high rate of injuries of 17.1 per 100 exposures, with the majority of injured body areas being the head. On average, boxers throw 750 strikes and land with 30–40% accuracy. Combine this with the fact that the majority of these strikes land on the head, and you get why boxing is so dangerous. Broken noses, jaws, and other facial fractures, as well as cuts and concussions, are quite common.
Wrestling is hard on your body too, but nowhere near as dangerous in the long run as boxing.
Time to learn — wrestling
Overall, wrestling takes more time to master. On average, you need at least 5 years of training to become an advanced practitioner. Boxers, on the other side, need no more than 1-1.5 years to develop solid skills.
Boxing vs. Wrestling – Which One Is For You?
Boxing and wrestling are conceptually different martial arts and which one is right for you really comes down to personal preference. Here are some final tips that may help you make the right decision.
If you are a fan of striking and want to develop proper technique, then boxing should be your choice. Training is intense, but the techniques are quite simple. Everyone, regardless of talent can learn it in a reasonable time with a bit of dedication. Techniques you learn are practical in real life, MMA, and training will get you in top shape in a very short time span.
Wrestling should be your choice if you want to learn how to grapple. And, the classes are very popular among younger generations and you will rarely see adults joining the classes. In fact, most adults choose similar arts such as BJJ for instance while wrestling is mostly for kids and teenagers. It is a highly competitive sport integrated into the educational program of high schools and universities all across the world.